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The Importance of Proper Identification in Pest Control

Pests damage plants, crops and buildings. They can also transmit diseases such as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, leptospirosis and plague.

Pest control strategies include prevention – keeping pests from developing; suppression – reducing the number of pests to an acceptable level; and eradication – killing off an entire pest population. Contact Treasure Valley Pest Control now!

Whether an insect, disease, weed or vertebrate animal, correct pest identification is critical to the success of any pest control effort. Proper identification allows you to determine the need for control and select an appropriate integrated pest management (IPM) strategy. Identification also helps you determine the best methods to control the pest, including cultural practices, mechanical controls, physical barriers, and chemical applications.

Many pests leave characteristic damage to the host plant or have other distinguishing features that help you to identify them. You can also find information in printed or online pest identification guides that help you to identify the specific species. In addition, most pests have certain weak points or windows of opportunity when they are more vulnerable to being controlled. For example, insects may be easiest to control during the immature life stages or when they are newly emerged from eggs (annuals), or weeds may be easier to control when they are young and seedlings or in early vegetative growth phases (perennials).

If you have trouble identifying the pest that is infesting your garden, contact your county Extension office or a professional pest management company for assistance. They can provide information about the pest and its habitat requirements, time of occurrence, and other important characteristics.

A flashlight – Pests often live or seek shelter in dark, secluded areas where they are difficult to see. A flashlight with a telescoping handle can be especially helpful for inspection behind equipment and furniture where pests are often found. Magnifier – A magnifier is very useful for examining insect parts, frass (excrement) and other evidence of pest activity. It is also helpful in locating points of entry, sanitation deficiencies and maintenance problems.

A good, quality pest identification guide that includes photographs can be a valuable reference tool in your fight against pests. These guides can be found at most bookstores and garden centers and some come with a pocket-sized magnifying lens for quick, easy identification of pests. They also offer tips for control of common pests such as cockroaches, houseflies, cluster flies and ants.

Pest Prevention

Pests can bring health, safety and sanitation concerns into homes and businesses. They can also cause structural damage, destroy food and spoilage, trigger allergic reactions and sensitivities, and carry and spread disease organisms. The best course of action is to prevent pests from entering the premises in the first place.

A preventive approach to pest control defines what clients are responsible for and what the pest management professional is responsible for with regard to sanitation, maintenance, cleaning, cultural practices and other areas that contribute to pest problems. It is usually less expensive than dealing with a full infestation.

Many factors influence the growth of a pest population, such as natural enemies, weather and food availability. Some natural barriers, such as mountains or large bodies of water, limit the movement of pests. The availability of shelter and roosting sites influences the number of pests, as do the presence of overwintering grounds. The life cycles of many pests restrict their populations and make them vulnerable to control measures that interrupt those cycles.

In many cases, natural predators or parasitoids can reduce a pest population without the need for chemical controls. Examples of these are lacewings, lady beetles and robber flies. Insecticides may be used in a limited way to enhance these natural controls.

A good pest prevention program starts with a thorough inspection of the property, including the structure, surrounding grounds and buildings. A flashlight and a magnifying glass are useful tools for inspecting dark, secluded spots where pests hide and breed. A telescoping mirror allows the inspector to check under and behind equipment and furniture.

The inspector should also take note of what makes the area attractive to pests. Woodpiles, weedy areas, compost piles and piles of debris can provide food, water and hiding places for pests. Regular weeding and trash removal can help keep pests away from the house. Gutters should be cleared of leaves and debris, and the roof should be checked for leaks or openings.

Indoors, the house should be vacuumed and washed regularly with hot water to remove dust and mites. Beds, rugs and pillows should be washed to rid them of fleas and bedbugs. Kitchens should be kept clean and food stored in sealed containers to avoid pest attraction.

Pest Control Methods

Once pests gain a foothold in your home, garden or yard, it’s only a matter of time before they start doing damage and creating health risks. That’s why preventing their spread is so important: pest infestations that are allowed to get out of control can quickly snowball into serious problems, such as structural damage or even serious illness for people and pets.

There are several ways to determine if pest control is needed:

Preventive methods include denying the pests the food, water or shelter that they need to survive and reproduce. For example, removing all possible sources of food for insects, such as keeping garbage in tightly covered containers and fixing leaky faucets, helps keep their numbers down. Mulching around plants deprives weeds of the sunlight they need for germination, and eliminating moisture sources can prevent fungal diseases in leaves.

Physical or mechanical control methods use traps, screens, fences, barriers and other devices to physically block the pests or alter their environment. For instance, tin foil can be used as an effective barrier for many ant species. Physical traps, netting and decoys are also common pest control tools.

Chemical pest control uses solutions, such as repellents and insecticides, to kill or deter the pests. These solutions are typically faster-acting than preventive measures, but they may pose health and environmental concerns when used incorrectly or in excess.

Biological pest control uses organisms that are natural enemies of the targeted pest, such as predators and parasites. Biological controls are less invasive than chemical pesticides and can be more cost-effective, but they still take some time to work. Examples of biological pest control include nematodes, such as the cockroach-eating bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which can be sprayed to kill caterpillars, and biostimulants, such as organic compost. Fumigation is another chemical pest control method that involves sealing and filling a building with special gases to completely eradicate pests. Eradication is rarely attempted in outdoor settings, but it’s an option for indoor spaces such as food processing and storage facilities. Eradication is also sometimes an option for imported pests such as Mediterranean fruit flies and gypsy moths.


A pesticide is any substance that kills or prevents the growth of a damaging organism. It can be manufactured from natural products or from synthetic chemicals. It can be used on plants, animals or rodents. It can also be used to protect structures or products from damage. Pesticides come in many forms, including spray cans and crop dusters, liquids or powders. They can be found in your house and garden as well as on crops, in the workplace or at schools and businesses.

Over 800 different types of pesticides are registered in the United States. They are grouped into categories by the type of organism they control and by how they work. Insecticides kill insects; herbicides destroy weeds and other unwanted vegetation; fungicides kill mold and mildew; and rodenticides kill mice and other rodents. Other pesticides may modify a plant’s growth (regulators), drop the plant’s leaves prematurely (defoliants) or act as a drying agent (desiccants).

Chemical pesticides are often toxic when absorbed through the skin, inhaled or swallowed. They are often contaminated with impurities or “contaminants” that are not purposely added but are a result of the manufacturing process, such as dioxins and DDT. In addition, they may break down into metabolites that are just as or even more hazardous than the parent pesticide.

Natural and organic pesticides are based on things found in nature, such as microbes, certain minerals or plant extracts. They are usually allowed for use on organic crops. Synthetic pesticides are chemical compounds or mixtures that are designed to mimic the action of a naturally occurring substance and are generally required for conventional agriculture.

All pesticides cause harm to the environment when they are applied improperly or in excess. In addition, they can lead to diseases in humans and other animals when ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Insecticides can also be a significant contributor to the decline of pollinators, which are critical to food production, and they can create conditions that foster the growth of pathogens that threaten human and animal health. They can also contribute to ambient pollution and harm water quality.